Sex, Tales and Political Drama in the Asian Winks

in 13rd Vladivostok International Film Festival of Asian-Pacific Countries

by Anchalee Chaiworaporn

At the 13th Vladivostok Pacific Meridian International Film Festival, seven Asian films made it into the Official Competition section – out of a total of ten entries – with a reverence to the themes of sex, tales about lives and political drama. More than half of the directors presented their debut films; only two were veterans with the directing experience of a dozen features. Films from China, India, Japan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Vietnam filled the rule of the East with rage, stress, loneliness, despair and betrayal.

Jun Robles Lana’s Shadow Behind the Moon (Anino sa likod ng buwan) twists an evening of chit-chat between a couple of war refugees and their military friend into a disaster when their secrets are revealed. Seemingly a family matter in the beginning, the film travels through black-and-white, grainy pictures in a single location and an apparently long take (actually, there are totally twenty takes) before turning into the tug of a Filipino domestic war. Political conflict is nothing more than a wide scope for the family drama, in which director Lana exercises his writing skills in the complex layers of each characters’ background, fears, revenge and betrayal. A similar resurgence also appears in the debut of Dae-hwan Kim, End of Winter, (Cheol-won-gi-haeng), which follows a get-together of a broken family in the midst of the rigidity and coldness of Cheorwon, the border town between the North and South Korea. Locked in the house for three days due to a cancellation of bus services, the family – a just-retired father, a moody mother, an elder son with his girlfriend, and a younger son – are forced into the encounter with and revelation of their long-kept testament. But with the problem of political concealment, the film merely turns out into a South Korean version of Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (1996).

However, two films by rather young directors are aesthetically and sexually almost on the point of disturbance. The duo of directors Emyr ap Richard and Darhad Erdenibulag pays homage to Franz Kafka in adapting his unfinished novel The Castle (1926) into their second feature, K. A land surveyor called K arrives at a remote frontier village where everything needs to be nodded off by ‘the Mayor’. K is forced to encounter a series of radical mishaps, especially when he has an affair with the Mayor’s mistress. Under the meticulous control of interior shots, modernist-painting-like sets, and jazz music, K brings us into the Mongolian world of sex and bureaucracy with huge intensity. The unclear ending where K is left in the middle of passage significantly glorifies both the relevance of unfinished original work and the bewilderment of the protagonist.

Discomfort is heightened with the pregnancy of the Vietnamese teenage girl Huyen through the lens of Diep Hoang Nguyen in Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere (Dap cánh giua không trung). While Huyen roams around the town trying to find money for an abortion, the tension intensifies and this version of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile, 2007) turns into a film of reckless disturbance.

Three other films – The Birth of Saké, Labour of Love and Dark in the White Light – follow the trails of human lives. The US-Japanese documentary The Birth of Saké by Erik Shirai is rich in overt cinematography, but its cross-cutting technique and tear-jerking style offer a maze of bewilderment and unnecessary drama. India’s Labour of Love (Asha Jaoar Majhe) by Aditya Vikram Sengupta lyrically and silently tells of the daily life of a couple through the cycle of work. However, the repetitious pace and rhythm make this 84-minute picture only a peeping experience into somebody’s domestic chores. Sri Lanka’s Dark in the White Light (Sulanga Gini Aran) by Vimukthi Jayasundara is a film with the ambition of a sophisticated blending of Buddhist truth and the birth-and-death philosophy. The conflicting combination in the characters themselves and difficult-to-understand plots render the film unclear.

However, when it comes to shorts, only one film comes from the territory. Oh Lucy! is a rich piece with the superb performance by Japanese veteran actress Kaori Momori on the changing identity of a 55-year-old single lady, who is given a blonde wig by her English-language tutor. But as it is merely a short version of an upcoming feature project, it is a brief fun ride, which will be shown in a full blow-up in the feature.

Nevertheless, Vladivostok Pacific Meridian Film Festival strongly proves its support and discovery of old and new talents from the neighbouring countries. Besides the program of winners of many renowned film festivals, the festival also keeps its eyes open for small and limited-budgeted films from its neighbours.

Edited by Birgit Beumers